TikTok Fined $16 Million For Misusing U.K. Children’s Data— Published By Forbes
TikTok has been fined nearly $16 million for “misusing children’s data,” Britain’s data watchdog announced on Tuesday, the latest blow for the wildly popular platform as it faces intensifying scrutiny over its links to China and potentially harmful impact on younger users.
The Information Commissioner’s Office said it had fined TikTok $15.9 million (£12.7 million) for numerous “breaches of data protection law” and for failing to protect the privacy of kids.
TikTok allowed as many as 1.4 million U.K. children under the age of 13 to use its platform in 2020, the regulator estimated, despite the company’s own policies barring children that young from creating accounts.
In addition to breaking its own policies, the regulator said TikTok also fell foul of British data protection laws, which require organizations using the personal data of kids under the age of 13 to gain parental consent.
The regulator criticized TikTok for failing to seek parental consent and said the company “ought to have been aware that under 13s were using its platform,” adding that it failed to carry out the necessary checks to identify and remove underaged users.
The magnitude of the fine, one of the largest levied by the ICO, “reflects the serious impact” of TikTok’s failure, explained U.K. Information Commissioner John Edwards, stressing that the failure has potentially exposed kids to “harmful, inappropriate content” and may have allowed them to be tracked and profiled.
TikTok did not immediately respond to Forbes’ request for comment.
“There are laws in place to make sure our children are as safe in the digital world as they are in the physical world. TikTok did not abide by those laws,” Edwards said when explaining the ICO’s decision. “TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better,” he added.
$33.7 million (£27 million). That’s the size of the fine the ICO said it planned to levy on TikTok for the infractions when it originally announced its intention to penalize the company last year. The regulator said it decided not to pursue a provisional finding from its investigation related to the unlawful use of special category data, which includes information like ethnic background, political opinions, health data and sexual orientation.
TikTok is particularly popular among younger people and the potential for it—as well as other social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube and Facebook—to harm young users has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. Aspects of TikTok’s platform, such as how its algorithms suggest content that can harm users’ mental and physical wellbeing, are considered particularly problematic for younger children, many of whom use the platform without supervision or permission. While many platforms are stepping in with policies to safeguard younger users, they have been sharply criticized for failing to adequately monitor who uses their services and what content is posted, as well as failing to remove both users who should not have been able to join in the first place and harmful content placing them at risk.
Such scrutiny over TikTok’s impact on kids comes amid mounting unease from Western governments over the company’s ties to China. The platform is owned by Chinese company ByteDance and lawmakers fear its popularity could be exploited by Beijing to spy on users outside its borders. Though TikTok strenuously denies it would ever do so and says it keeps data separate, many lawmakers fear Chinese authorities could force its hand. Governments, including the federal government, most state governments and a string of European countries, have already banned the app from official devices over security concerns. U.S. lawmakers are considering banning TikTok entirely to safeguard national security.